Negative Feedback Creates Fear; Fear Creates Flight

Chapter 6 146-148  Lead With Love By: Gerry Carnecki

Using rewards to reinforce desired behavior is better than using punishment to eliminate unacceptable behavior. The reason is simple: punishment can lead to serious negative reactions resulting from a fear of failure. Give adults the opportunity to be rewarded for outstanding performance and they will focus on doing what it takes to achieve the goal. Tell adults they will be fired if they fail to meet a goal and in all likelihood their focus will be on avoiding failure rather than striving for success. Fear can motivate, but it can also paralyze. If we fear something enough, we will spend our time attempting to avoid it. Achieving a goal because of fear will not assure a continued commitment to success. An associate may respond to a negative feedback session with an immediate surge of adrenaline-driven energy, but he may also feel long-term anger that can destroy effective learning and ultimately lead to resentment and resignation.

 The emotion of fear at first causes a normal reaction of sight. We fear, we see. But running from a fear generally gets us nowhere but tired. In some cases, that sight reaction can lead to denial of reality. When we are so afraid that we deny reality, then what we fear cannot happen. If it cannot happen, then we have nothing to fear. Therefore, we are safe.

 In our work life, we run from problems in the same way. We pretend they are not really problems; hence, we can ignore them. Even the most well-adjusted people have the ability to ignore problems, hoping they will go away. So when our boss creates a fear that we will lose our jobs if we fail, one option is to assume the boss really does not mean it and ignore the problem.

Another reason people freeze when confronted with fear is because they do not know what to do to succeed. They become immobilized and do nothing, not because they are trying to avoid work, but because they do not know what to do. They are afraid to take any action for fear it will create failure. Signs of this problem range from staring out a window to absence from work for protracted periods.

 Another type of reaction to fear can be a physical or mental shutdown. The body gets strong messages from the brain that something is wrong, reacts in a psychosomatic way, and becomes ill. The medical community has become acutely aware of the mind–body connection. The field of holistic medicine has emerged in recognition of the idea that emotional events such as intense fear can trigger very serious illnesses. These illnesses are not just in the mind. They are real, physical illnesses that can destroy a person. These reactions can range all the way from stress headaches to heart attacks, from rashes to severe immune system deficiencies.

 In short, fear does work to push people, but leading by fear can have negative psychological and physiological impacts on associates. Why would a person who loves others create that type of “disease”? Although punishment is sometimes necessary, it must be used sparingly and only when rewards fail to deliver results. Unfortunately, punishment frequently fails with people who have not responded to rewards, either. At times punishment is the only option, but it always carries the risk of adverse reactions. When somebody makes a serious error, the first action may be negative feedback. As an example, if a machine operator endangers a coworker’s life or a clerk’s error could have resulted in a $1 million loss, negative feedback is obviously required, even though there is a reasonable risk of serious adverse consequences from the associate’s reaction. No reasonable leader could be expected to hold back from the emotional reaction of a first-class scolding. The key to managing this negative feedback is to follow up with constructive corrective action. Turning a negative into a positive is a must if you want to provide a real developmental experience.

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